Topics: Improved, type-aware static analyser and Partial type inference

This week was spent on further improvements to the new SA, and making it complete (i.e. making it cover all instructions). The new static analysis is not yet ready, but for supported subset of instructions it is available on devel branch, hidden behind --new-sa option.

To see the new SA in action download Viua VM, compile it, and use ./build/bin/vm/asm --new-sa on files from the ./sample/static_analysis directory.

Improved, type-aware static analyser

The new SA does not only track register use and warn about leaving values unused, or using uninitialised registers (which the old SA was capable of). It is now also aware of the type of values stored in the registers and is able to catch some errors arising due to use of incorrect type combinations (e.g. shifting bits by a text value, instead of an integer value).

Compile-time type errors

Catching type errors at compile time (which the new SA is capable of) is another feature of Viua that is intended to improve the reliability of the code that runs on the VM.

Without static type checking all type error detection is deferred until runtime, when it is sometimes to late to do something about them. With static type checking some type errors can be caught at compile-time which means that invalid programs will not even compile, and, as an effect, will not get the chance to be run and crash.

Types are attached to values by "constructor instructions" (istore, text, vec, etc.) and then are carried with values during the usual value-movement analysis.

Basic type system

The fact that SA was made type-aware means that the type system of Viua now manifests at compile time. It also means that, due to the fact that it is actually being used to analyse and verify correctness of Viua VM programs, it might prove useful to spend some time defining and describing it.

The type-aware SA also serves as a basic documentation for the inputs taken and outputs produced by all instructions, since the SA by necessity codifies all these rules. Without a doubt, though, such a documentation would be more approachable in a form of typical documentation (a human-readable English text, instead of a piece of C++ code).

Partial type inference

Sometimes values are being defined by instructions that are not in the "constructor instructions" group, and in such cases, it is not immediately obvious what type a value has. The SA does not bail and complain but instead tries to deduce what type the value is.

The inferencer used by the SA is quite primitive.


It looks at the instructions used to manipulate the value, and combines this with the assumptions it has about the types of instructions' operands to infer what type the value contained in registers used as operands has.

For example, if a value with previously undefined type is used as an input to the iinc instruction the inferencer will assign it the integer type, and if it is used as an operand of texteq instruction the inferencer will decide that the type of the value is text.


The second piece of information the inferencer deduces is the "pointerness". Basically, a type may exist in two variants: X or pointer to X. Accessing values by-pointer requires using a different access mode than the default direct one.

The SA ensures that the values are accessed using correct modes; it does not allow using pointers as direct values which is an error. By analysing the access mode used to fetch values from registers the inferencer is able to deduce the pointerness of a value.

The inferencer is able to deduce the full type of a value (the basic type plus pointerness) in two steps, if needed. It may deduce pointerness without the basic type if the value as accessed as a pointer by an instruction that has no assumptions about basic types (e.g. print, or vpush for pushed operands).